Monday, July 26, 2010

Tomorrow's Buzzword: Media Design


Faithful followers know I have a soft spot for buzzwords. While some people loathe them for their overuse and inability to really say anything, I heart them for their ability to give us a common language and describe (even if generically) emerging concepts.

One phrase that hasn't gotten much attention to date is "Media Design." Why? Well, quite simply it hasn't been really introduced. One man is out to change that, though.

Saneel Radia (not pictured above), formerly of Improv Olympic Chicago fame, is the recently appointed Director of Media Innovation at BBH Labs. His role there? Essentially, bringing the idea of "Media Design" to fruition after incubating it for the past few years at Denuo.

So what is Media Design? I have to admit, it took me a while to grasp the concept. Not because it's invalid or unimportant, but because it's a true paradigm-shifter. Yikes, there I go with the buzzwords again!

As Saneel puts it, Media Design represents "the missing skills within the advertising agency creative departments." In fact, that's the subtitle of Saneel's thesis completed in July of '09 for his MBA in Creative Leadership at the Berlin School.

The 70+ page paper -- which Saneel was kind enough to share with me -- makes the case (successfully, I might add) for the importance of Media Design as a discipline and the Media Designer as a critical role within creative shops.

With Saneel's permission, I'm posting the excerpts from his thesis that most resonated with me. As you read these, you can see how Saneel's thoughtfulness and ability to produce punchy soundbytes may have been shaped by his mentor and Denuo founder, Rishad Tobaccowala.

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On the connectedness of today's consumers:

"When the world was dominated by a traditional media model, advertisers had two major advantages when engaging consumers. First, the vast majority of media consumption occurred from a single source: the content creator. In other words, as television networks broadcasted content, most people who consumed this content were receiving the broadcast, rather than receiving it from a third party. Thus, brand messages needed only to be placed within content moving linearly from a single origin to engage the vast majority of users. In fact, the relationship between the content itself and the ad message placed within it was a secondary or tertiary consideration, with the primary concern being what demographic audience was consuming the content. Of course, a relationship has always existed; audiences tend to follow loose patterns (e.g., sports content is consumed primarily by male viewers), but the content itself rarely prevented brand message insertion."

On the social media model:

"First, it means brands are actually competing for attention with the very consumers they are attempting to engage. Second, in a new media model, consumers are clearly in control. They create the content, decide who and what they connect with, and generally outline the rules of those engagements."

"If a brand’s message or experience isn’t easily portable, doesn’t provide any natural reason for consumers to share it amongst themselves, or doesn’t live organically within the new social media model, the brand is drastically handicapping its messaging potential."

On the need for non-standard creative ideation:

"The experience can simply not be standardized as it was in traditional media. Thus, it does not exist in most ad agencies because they are built to deliver creative ideas in standardized environments."

On the need for new media creative ideas to evolve:

"When crafting creative ideas limited to traditional environments, agencies rarely had to think about the experience as anything other than a message; it was up to the client to provide service and responses, in many cases, not even the same individual responsible for marketing."

On the misprioritization of technology:

"The issue though is that technologies are downstream in the creative process and primarily impact how an idea manifests or how users experience it; they rarely determine if the creative idea itself is an effective platform to engage a brand’s target consumers."

Quoting Hashem Bawja, former New Media Director at Goodby Silverstein:

"Regardless of how the engagement has changed, the best creative ideas are still the ones built from a true and compelling insight into people's lives."

On why creative agencies employ antiquated models:

"The answer can of course be found by following the profits. As traditional creative departments have become less profitable over the last fifteen years, they’ve relied more and more heavily on marking up production to drive profits. As the FTE model has continued to yield lower blended hourly retainer rates while agency compensation for employees has increased, the profit margin has eroded significantly. In other words, clients are spending a smaller percentage of budgets on retaining Creatives in relation to their investment in media and digital production. As stated above, digital creative departments integrate production into their process; this has allowed agencies to establish profit by producing executions in house."

"Any client that listens to an agency attempt to sell a creative idea that requires in-house production at the agency should immediately consider the validity of the recommendation. Is the agency truly attempting to help drive the brand’s business forward, or is it attempting to drive its own?"

On the shift from branded micro-sites to social media:

"The reason is clear: consumers are spending more time in these environments and they tend to be in exploratory mindsets as they surf profiles and updates. It’s much easier to engage a consumer looking for something to do than one in the middle of an objective that must be lured to a micro-site via a banner ad."

On understanding the Media Design concept:

"First, a new frame of reference is needed about the output of creative departments, specifically differentiating ideas vs. their executions. Next, the lines around what constitutes advertising must be redrawn and blurred to some degree as the traditional lines between product, advertising and experience are simply not clear within most new media."

On the role of creative agencies:

"Creative departments are in the ideas business."

"Today’s creative ideas must be broader, more flexible, more modular, utilitarian, and more diverse."

On the role of the Media Designer:

"Philosophically, Media Designers do not approach media as containers for the placement of uniform executions of ideas, as was highly efficient in a traditional media model. Instead, Media Designers view media as a canvas upon which are ideas are placed. More accurately, media is a collection of unique canvases, each of which has a dramatic and distinct impact on the creative manifestation itself."

"The Media Designer's primary tool is 'media' itself, of all types and formats... 'Media' is defined as any environment, virtual or physical, in which consumers may engage brands."

"Media Designers understand channel impact on content."

"Media Designers leverage media as a consumer lens... One key skill set of the Media Designer is the ability to use media as an input as adeptly as he or she uses it as an output."

"Media Designers craft media-scalable ideas. One clear distinction when approaching media as a canvas vs. as a container is understanding the striations of users across a medium and engaging them differently to maximize a creative idea’s potential. For example, YouTube receives about 89 million unique users a month [as of May 2009]. A 'container' philosophy sees this as the total possible universe reachable via advertising on YouTube. However, the audience itself can be cut an infinite number of ways, many of which will yield different outcomes based on variations on the same creative idea."

On Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice Facebook App:

"The creative idea's relationship with its medium was circular."

On why Media Design is such a foreign concept to creative shops:

"The issue currently though is that not enough relevant skills exist in most creative departments to ensure relevant conception, primarily because of the void resulting from an absence in media sensibility."

On why the industry is ripe for Media Design:

"The model is appropriate for agencies now that brand engagement has been so dramatically impacted by the new media revolution. It weaves media into the fabric of the original idea, the key reason most work is rejected by consumers today."

On managing expectations:

"Media Design is not intended as a panacea for any agency, but it certainly provides a tangible and achievable set of expertise that must be secured, then deployed as appropriate in the environment of that particular agency. In order to be successful, most agencies will require some form of reinvention. Media Design is proposed as a key step in that reinvention process for the majority of agencies around the globe."

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Can you imagine Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce employing Media Designers? Me neither. That's one of the many reasons why SCDP would not be flourishing in today's ad world. (I'd imagine health care and HR costs would be among the others).

Media Design is both revolutionary and evolutionary. It's an approach built to manage the complexities of today's digital world while paying homage to the tried and true principles of successful advertising that have proven to work over the years across shifts in media, technology, and culture.

It will be very interesting to see how long it takes for the Media Design concept to catch on in creative agencies. I do believe it's a matter of "when" not "if" though. And, "if" it doesn't happen at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, look for Radia Goldman coming soon to a mad ave near you.

4 comments:

Saneel said...

It's funny to go back and read (heck, even I skimmed) quotes from my thesis. Reading the points about YouTube makes me realize how many were addressed so well by the team here when they crafted FastBall (youtube.com/chromefastball). Really, they used media as a canvas in every way possible. Kudos to them.

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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